Shira Camp, Machame Route Kilimanajaro

The Clouds Below Shira Camp

“When I look up and see the sun shining on the patch of white clouds up in the blue, I begin to think how it would feel to be up somewhere above it winging swiftly thought the clear air, watching the earth below, and the men on it, no bigger than ants”. – Eddie Rickenbacker

There is something absolutely magical about being above the clouds and there was no place on the mountain that the view of the ever-changing clouds was more spectacular than at Shira Camp.

Shira Camp lies nestled high above the treeline at 12,600 feet (3,840 m) affording awe-inspiring views of the cloud-covered forest below. It is by far one of the most beautiful camps on the entire mountain and thankfully I arrived to have the entire afternoon to watch the clouds move, change, form and change colors with the setting sun. Besides the climb to the summit itself, watching the clouds hover over the landscape far below was the most amazing part of the entire hike.

I already featured some of my most beloved photos from my evening at Shira Camp in this post “Close Up in the Clouds of Kilimanjaro“. Yet this place was so unbelievably beautiful I felt I had to share the rest. I literally sat outside my tent and took photos for hours.

Shira Camp, Machame Route Kilimanajaro

Arriving at Shira Camp

Shira Camp, Machame Route Kilimanajaro

I had purchased a SIM card upon arrival in Tanzania in hopes of staying in touch with my family during the climb but I was only able to get an internet connection once and it took an hour of trying. I was told to go where the porters go as they always know where the hotspots are. Typically it can be found on the highest rock at the camp. I climbed up onto my perch and waited.

Shira Camp, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Kilimanjaro: Day 2 Climb to Shira Camp


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Here is a copy of the map of our trail. Not the best quality but the best map I can find to show you the route we followed.

I woke up to the sounds of the camp. Tent zipping open and closed. The sing-song sounds of Swahili and the birds crowing. I had made it through my first night on the mountain and needless to say, did not sleep well. The ground was as hard as a rock, our tent was on an angle just like the mountain itself and I was frozen cold all night long despite the low elevation. It would become a regular battle for me each and every night trying to figure out how to stay warm, how to not have to get up in the middle of the night to find the toilet tent and how to remember in the pitch black darkness which green Zara tent was  mine. For me, sleeping was going to be the hardest part of the climb.

The second day climb would take us from 9,780 feet (2,980 m) to Shira Camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 m) passing through rainforest glades, the vast open moorlands and up to the Shira Plateau where the treeline ends and the vegetation becomes sparse. In total, the climb is roughly 4 miles (7 km) taking anywhere between four to six hours depending upon speed.

Machine Camp Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Morning welcomes us at Machame Camp. Elevation 9,780 feet (2980 m)

We ate a delicious breakfast of eggs, fruit and freshly made chapati bread (there are a lot of Indian influences in Tanzanian cuisine) and then were on our way. We set off around 8:30 am along with all the hundreds of other climbers, going up a steep, narrow path in single file line. The first hour was rather laborious and frustrating because when one person or group stopped, it set off a domino effect going down the mountain stopping us all. Thankfully the trail widened and opened up a bit later into the hike or it would have been a long, annoying day.

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Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Kilimanjaro: Day 1 Climb to Machame Camp

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” -Barry Finlay

The first day of the climb following the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro is a relatively easy 4-6 hour walk (depending on speed) ascending through lush tropical rainforest filled with Podocarpus trees, vine-like lianas, tree ferns and nettles. The trail is well-maintained yet can be muddy given the high levels of rain this part of the mountain receives. The thick foliage provides a verdant canopy letting in little light except tree-filtered rays of the sun. It is absolutely serene.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Our group of Solar Sisters setting off from the Machame Gate.

The weather was absolutely perfect. It was no too hot or too cold and it wasn’t raining which is always a relief. Until you are above the clouds, it can pour down rain making the journey up to Machame Camp a slippery, muddy, uncomfortable mess. Thankfully, we never experienced any bad weather the entire week of our climb which was rather remarkable and very fortunate. You never know what kind of extreme weather you may find on Kilimanjaro and just the week before the summit was unbearably windy and cold. The general rule of thumb is to always be prepared for everything and dress in layers.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Caroline giving me a smile

We left along with several other large groups of climbers and their teams. Our group of nine climbers had four guides, and about 25 others as our support staff, all local Tanzanians who were being paid as either porters, cooks or waiters. Since the entire Machame Route is camping only, everything we needed for the entire week had to be carried which required a large support team. Tents for us as well as the support staff, a cooking tent, a “kitchen” tent, two “toilet” tents and all our food and cooking supplies had to be carried up and down Kilimanjaro.

Machame Route Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Porters heading up to the first camp

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Solar Sister Summit Kilimanjaro Tanzania

En route to the Roof of Africa

“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary

I woke up Sunday morning with a jolt of anticipation. Today was the day we were leaving for Kilimanjaro. Months of preparing and years of dreaming about it, I was finally on my way. It felt surreal.

Since the beginning of mankind, men and women alike have challenged themselves by climbing mountains. Scaling all of the seven summits – the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents –  was first achieved by the late American climber Richard Bass in the spring of 1985.  Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty.  Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.

Image of the 7summits v2

Image of the 7summits v2″ by Anurag Paul. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Free Commons.

Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

We set off for Machame Village shortly after breakfast with the van packed with our gear and a couple of our guides. Our group of nine climbers – six of us from the United States and three from Nigeria were all part of the #SolarSisterSummit in honor of Solar Sister’s five-year anniversary of providing clean energy and women’s empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our climb would be the culmination of months of fundraising and training.

Solar Sister Summit Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Our group sporting our new Solar Sister Summit t-shirts at Machame Gate

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Mount Kilimanaro Moshi Tanzania

A Hike through the Rice Paddies of Moshi

Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here

I rose Saturday morning feeling surprisingly refreshed despite the weary night sleep. Our hotel room was on the first floor next to some loud female cats in heat and finally around three am I had to shut the window to get rid of the noise and awful stink. I fell in and out of a fitful, jet lagged sleep for the next several hours lying like a princess under my white canopy bed net.

The sounds of Africa woke me up as the neighboring community outside our hotel compound walls arose. Cars honking, kids playing, birds singing and motorbikes buzzing. All the sounds of life told me that it was time to get out of bed.

Springlands hotel Moshi

Workers unloading the daily supplies of fresh produce for the Springlands hotel.

We had nothing planned that day except our gear check and meeting on the details of our hike. I knew I couldn’t spend another entire day behind the walls of our hotel. I needed to get out and explore. I spoke with the friendly hotel staff and planned two outings for the day. A visit to a nearby orphanage supported by the charity of the hotel and a tour of the rice paddy fields outside the hotel.

For the rice paddies, I hired a local guide named Kebello and set off on a land tour through the rice paddies behind the hotel and into the rich, thicket forest harboring three different kinds of monkeys. Before I laced up my shoes, I knew it was going to be an adventure.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

The first day: Arrival in Moshi

Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here

I began my long journey to Africa on a special day – July 8th, 2015 – my 15-year wedding anniversary. No wise wife purposely chooses to plan a two-week trip sans kids and husband on their wedding anniversary. But I had no choice. It would take me almost 24 hours to get to Tanzania and I needed to arrive in time to get over jet lag and prepare for the big climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Tearfully I said goodbye to my children and husband, feeling that bittersweet emotion mixed between excitement and guilt that I always feel when leaving my family to fly half way around the world. No matter how many times I’ve done it, it never is easy and I’m always a nervous, anxiety-ridden wreck before I leave on a big trip. Perhaps it is the micro-manager in me that always feels a sense of deep anxiety with leaving my organized, scheduled family life behind. Yet my bags were packed albeit five minutes before the taxi showed up outside my door, the meals were prepared and awaiting frozen inside the depths of the freezer and the endless pages of typed out notes with schedules, idiosyncrasies and miscellaneous tidbits on the daily care of the kids were left out in two copies for each one of my babysitters. I took deep breath, let out a sigh of relief and boarded the plane. A glass of wine was in order followed by another one as I settled into my seat.

There is something grand about traveling overseas, across continents and oceans. A deep, grateful wisp of anticipation, excitement and adventure always sets deep within my veins. Fortunately I have traveled all of my life and instead of diminishing, my love of wanderlust never seems to fade. Instead, it grows stronger like a huge oak tree firmly rooted into the ground and expanding upon each bit of sunlight and drop of rain.

Sunset over Africa

Sunset over Africa

Every time I get in the air, I turn on the flight tracker and watch in amazement the places we pass, soaring through the sky to the next adventure. This time it would be Tanzania, not a new continent for me but a new place. The first stop was in Amsterdam where I would had a couple of hours layover before boarding my next nine-hour flight directly to Kilimanjaro International Airport, located about an hour’s drive from Moshi where I’d be staying for the next couple of days.

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Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Close Up in the Clouds of Kilimanjaro

It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise. – Henry David Thoreau

The one thing I will always remember about living on Mount Kilimanjaro for seven days and nights is the clouds. Every night at sunset I took my mug of hot cocoa out to a suitable rock and watched the changing clouds up close. I felt they were calling me in some strange way. Connecting me to nature and to myself.

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Although I’ve done a lot of hiking over the years, I have never spent an entire week living on one single mountain. It was a rather surreal experience. Every camp site we stayed at was at an angle reminding me of what we had climbed up thus far and what remained. Every night sleeping in the tent, I’d put my boots at the end of my sleeping bag to keep my body from sliding down.

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Base Camp 2, Machete Route, Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

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On top of Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

On top of Mount Kilimanjaro

I did it! I made it all the way up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro during seven grueling days and nights climbing, sleeping and living on this majestic mountain. The experience was surreal. I have so many stories to share about this amazing journey and the friends I met along the way. But for now I need to get home and rest.

On top of Uhuru Peak Mount Kilimanjaro Tanzania

I will leave you with this short video of our second night on Kilimanjaro, a view of sunset from outside my tent. It felt like we were floating high above the earth and clouds. If there is a heaven, I believe I saw it.

Stay tuned….

Author’s note: This post is part of a series on my recent trip and climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, to read all posts click here

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My 5 am climb up the Santa Maria Volcano

“The Beauty of the Mountain is hidden for all those who try to discover it from the top, supposing that, one way or an other, one can reach this place directly.   The Beauty of the Mountain reveals only to those who climbed it…” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

View of the grand Santa Maria volcano off in the distance as I was leaving Xela via shuttle on my way to Antigua. 

There are things you’ll experience in Guatemala that will stay with you forever: the smell of a freshly grilled tortilla; the assault-on-all-senses of a jungle trek; the people you bump into on the road and become lifelong friends…..In the west, a volcano looms on almost every horizon, almost begging to be climbed.  (Opening lines in the introduction to Guatemala, Lonely Planet 2010).

It was with these words, “almost begging to be climbed” that I joyously opted to skip my already-paid for Spanish class on Wednesday and wake up at the break of dawn to climb Guatemala’s fourth highest volcano, Santa Maria (elevation 3772 m/12,375 feet).  It didn’t matter that I was utterly exhausted nor that I didn’t have the right gear.  All that mattered was there was an enormously, inviting volcano begging to be climbed.  There was no way I wasn’t going to climb it.

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